Thursday, 11 December 2014
National Broadband Plan Implementation
10. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the person that will be tasked with costing the proposals for the State-led intervention in the national broadband plan intervention areas identified during the mapping process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47112/14]
13. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the criteria that will be used to cost the proposals for the State-led intervention proposed in the national broadband plan; the way the plan will be funded; if the areas with the poorest coverage will be prioritised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47111/14]
If it is okay with the Minister of State, I propose that we take Questions Nos. 10 and 13 together because they are similar. Question No. 13 is the one I really want to ask. It is to ask the Minister of State what criteria will be used to cost the proposals for the State-led intervention proposed in the national broadband plan. How will the plan be funded and will the areas with the poorest coverage be prioritised?
I will respond to the first question but will keep the other question in the back of my mind.
The national broadband plan, NBP, aims to ensure that every citizen and business, regardless of location, has access to a high quality, high speed broadband service. This will be achieved through a combination of commercial investments and a State-led intervention in areas where commercial services will not be provided.
On 24 November last, the Minister, Deputy White, launched a public consultation on the national high speed coverage map 2016. This allows all members of the public, whether business or residential, to see whether their premises or home is included in the Government’s proposed intervention. It also provides detailed information on a county-by-county basis as to which villages and townlands are to be included.
My Department is responsible for the calculation of the costs associated with the Government's intervention under the plan. This is an important part of the detailed work that is being undertaken to finalise the detailed intervention strategy. Ultimately, however, the outcome of the tender process will determine the final cost of the intervention.
Detailed technical, legal, regulatory, financial and economic evaluations are required to ensure that the tender will be designed in such a way that maximises efficiencies and keeps the cost to taxpayers as low as possible. Given the strong dynamic that currently exists in the Irish broadband market we can expect a very competitive procurement process.
The next steps in this process will see a further public consultation on the detailed intervention strategy in mid-2015. A detailed procurement process will be undertaken in order to select a potential bidder or bidders towards the end of 2015 and it is expected that the physical build of this network will commence from 2016.
This complex and ambitious project is a key priority for Government. It aims to conclusively address current connectivity challenges in Ireland and no doubt in Longford-Westmeath.
I thank the Minister of State. The national broadband plan to deliver high speed broadband to every corner of the country is very welcome. However, like all ambitious plans, it comes at a price. Longford-Westmeath is my priority. The previous Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, rightly said that an ambitious programme to provide high quality, reliable and high speed broadband is a necessity for the 21st century and society. Nobody would disagree with this assertion but, unfortunately, the broadband issue has almost become a toxic one in rural Ireland and in communities such as my own which have heard about the national broadband schemes but they have never materialised.
As the Minister of State knows, the broadband deficit is huge in rural areas. In my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, for example, there are many areas which have no broadband or patchy broadband at best. We seem to have an increasing urban-rural divide when it comes to available broadband speeds. Some rural areas have no broadband while some urban areas enjoy state-of-the-art broadband speeds. There is no question but that the midlands region can benefit hugely from improved broadband infrastructure and I hope this national broadband plan can provide a basis for regional economic growth and job creation in the midlands and across the country. Good broadband can level the playing field for small businesses and it is an essential piece of business infrastructure but, sadly, there is a deficit in many areas.
The State has been very insincere in its approach to this. We have heard about all the Mickey Mouse plans over the past number of years. It must be fibre going into every house and community. There is a network there with the ESB. It must be fibre because anything else is tinkering around the edges. We did it in the 1930s and 1940s with the ESB.
I will take the two questions in the short time available. It is a complex process because we must adhere to EU competition guidelines. The Department is not in a position to say whether it will be fibre, copper or wireless or a combination. I agree with Deputy Moynihan that fibre is where it is at in terms of business, whether the MANs network or Project Kelvin in the north west. The competitive nature of this and compliance with EU regulations are important. We are looking at a constructive timeframe post-summer 2015 and at going to tender. Whether it will be a bidder or a combination of bidders, this is where the focus must be.
The physical infrastructure is there. We have ESB and Eircom infrastructures. There are also wireless solutions. A gap will be filled by commercial companies. The ESB has already announced 50 towns and Eircom announced another project in the past month targeting other towns, but there will be gaps.
There is a map. I encourage the Deputies to go to the local authorities, including that in Longford-Westmeath. I am sure there is engagement with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. They know what is available, what is missing and what is included. If there are to be changes on the map between now and summer 2015, there is an option there. Again, I encourage Deputies to engage with the local authorities which are already doing this at a formal level. If there are to be changes to the map, let us make them.
We are moving into a new space in regard to broadband. It is not just about providing broadband for present day needs. We have to look at how this broadband infrastructure, both commercial and State-led, will provide for the needs ahead, whatever they will be. Things are changing so quickly. I do not know what the needs will be but the people involved in the industry know where broadband capabilities, supply and services will be in the next ten to 20 years.